A Talk on the Wild Side.
The public lands of Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska are among the lands Fish and Wildlife Service staff works to keep safe for everyone. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS
On the Fourth of July, the U.S. Department of the Interior held its 72nd Honor Awards Convocation, honoring employees, volunteers and citizens who have acted to protect the lives of others. The Fish and Wildlife Service is proud that three staff members received Valor Awards for unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk in the face of danger. We are equally proud that one of our volunteers received the Citizen’s Award for Bravery for unusual bravery in the face of danger while on property owned by or entrusted to the Department of the Interior.
In the introduction to the program, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, wrote: “These heroes would humbly tell you that they were just doing their jobs or doing what had to be done—even though many of their acts of heroism were not official duties. I believe you will find all their stories incredible and inspiring.”
These are their stories:
Two of the honorees took action during severe storms in May 2015 at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.
|Matt Belew with Secretary Zinke. Photo by DOI|
On May 16, Federal Wildlife Officer Matt Belew came to the rescue of Boy Scouts camping at Wichita Mountains when a tornado blew through the area.
Belew had been monitoring the weather conditions and received information that a severe storm was approaching. Knowing a Scout troop was camping at the refuge, he immediately drove to the campground and evacuated the entire troop and their leaders to safety. He then returned to the campground to ensure that no one was left behind.
One Scout father later told Fish and Wildlife Service staff that “one of those blue tents that was totally smashed by a large tree was the one my son was in. We had no idea a severe storm was approaching when your officer came and had us evacuate for shelter at the [refuge] headquarters basement. I fear my son and others would have died had we not left. So, thank you.”
As it was, there were no fatalities, or even injuries. Read More
|Joseph D’Arrigo with Secretary Zinke. Photo by DOI|
A week later, on May 23, a storm produced extremely heavy rain in a short period of time. The rain caused flash flooding throughout the refuge, including the refuge employee residence where maintenance supervisor Joseph A. D’Arrigo, his family, and other refuge employees and their families lived.
D’Arrigo told our Friends Forward in 2015: “I was Paul Revere. I was eating dinner and saw the water coming over the top of the gutters. I started putting bags in the basement. Then I saw a wall of water coming out of the creek and ran to tell other people to get out.”
About 30 people, including infants and children, made it safely to a bunkhouse on higher ground. He led the evacuation and later risked his own safety in going back to help others.
There was no loss of life. Read More
On November 22, 2015, a 21-year old male swimmer began to swim up the Spring Run Canal just outside Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The swimmer began to have problems swimming, panicked and called for help.
Tim Durden, an FWS volunteer, arrived on the scene via kayak as the distressed swimmer began to go under water.
When Mr. Durden got close, the panicked swimmer grabbed his kayak and tried to board it in an attempt to stay above water. The water depth at the entrance of the Spring Run Canal is approximately eight feet and a high outgoing tide made for a significant current.
If the swimmer had tipped Mr. Durden’s kayak over, both would have been at risk of drowning.
Instead of panicking himself, Mr. Durden spoke to the swimmer and calmed him down. He then instructed the swimmer to hold on to the rope on the rear of his kayak. Mr. Durden towed the swimmer safely back to his boat.
Had Mr. Durden not gone above and beyond the call of duty in rescuing the distressed swimmer at personal risk, the situation may have resulted in serious injury or a loss of life.
|Deb Goeb with Secretary Zinke. Photo by DOI|
Finally, Federal Wildlife Officer Deb Goeb got a call on the morning of April 5, 2016, to help find an overdue boating party on Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana.
She spotted the boat, which had run aground on a shallow delta during storm the prior evening, and the rescue team maneuvered to within 100 yards of the stranded vessel. One of the two boaters tried to wade out to the rescue boat. He immediately sank up to his waist in silt and could not free himself.
Officer Goeb got out of the rescue craft and began belly-crawling through the silt to reach the first man. She secured a line around him and got him into the rescue boat. Officer Goeb then repeated the process to retrieve the second boater. Both boaters have made a complete and full recovery.
Former Navy SEAL commander Secretary Zinke had this to say of Officer Goeb: “Belly-crawling through sinking silt sounds like a job for a Navy SEAL.”
Congratulations to our staff and volunteer for the honors. Thank you for your work to make America’s public lands as safe as can be.